When it comes to fresh produce, there is a lot to think about between selection, purchase, and preparation. This blog will show you how to purchase fresh produce as well as consume them wisely. From the shop aisle to your kitchen counter, here are 12 helpful tips for fruit and vegetable buying.
To stretch your dollars and get the most out of your produce, use these expert-recommended tips.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 9% of Americans meet their daily vegetable quota of five servings. Even so, a few smart buying and storage practices can help you save money, extend the life of your purchases, and avoid the spread of nasty bacteria, making you more likely to join the fruit and veggie revolution.
When it's time to buy strawberries, squash, or spinach, remember these 12 expert-approved shopping guidelines.
- Don't Travel During the Off-Season
"Always aim to buy in-season produce," says Caroline Weeks, RD, a clinical registered dietitian in Des Moines, IA. Visit ripetrack.com to see what's fresh right now and plan your shopping accordingly.
"Not only will blueberries flown in from Kenya cost you about $5 during the winter, but the carbon footprint is also much higher, and the food's nutrient value can drop because it has been in long-distance transit and has been off the tree or vine for quite some time," says Adrienne Raimo, RD, a holistic health and wellness coach at One Bite Wellness in Columbus, Ohio.
- Don't Make the Mistake of Assuming That New Is Always Better.
"Try frozen fruit," she suggests. "The fruits are flash-frozen at peak freshness, so you receive all the same nutrients as fresh—just without the risk of deterioration before you finish them." Pre-cut frozen fruit might be a lifeline for all you smoothie superstars out there. "Frozen pineapple and mangoes, for example, may add natural sweetness and a rich, milkshake-like texture to shakes and smoothies, while also reducing prep time (because you don't have to slice it yourself) and waste."
- The Farmers' Market Shouldn't Be Overlooked
The produce area of the supermarket is certainly worth a look, but the farmers' market is a more social—and frequently more cost-effective—stop. Most farmers' markets accept SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) vouchers, making fresh ingredients more accessible to even more people, according to Weeks.
"I love going to farmers' markets for a variety of reasons: it's amazing to see the growers' passion and make a connection, and it's also nice to know I'm getting something more local and supporting neighbors," says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD, founder of BetterThanDieting.com and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You From Label to Table.
Furthermore, you can nearly always expect your purchases from a farmers' market to have been gathered more recently than those from a traditional grocery shop. Food distributors can extend the life of apples by three to six months by spraying them with a gas called 1-methyl cyclopropane (1-MCP) that inhibits ripening. It's great news for food waste, but it's not so great for your cells. These mature fruits and vegetables, like that world-traveler produce, are losing nutrition by the day.
- Don't Toss What's Past Its Use-By Date Right Away
Overripe fruit can be used in fast bread (banana muffins, anyone?) and crumble fillings (apple-streusel for the win!). If you don't get through all of your summer squash, grate it into zucchini bread batter or mix it with ground beef to add moisture, fiber, and vitamins to your burgers or meatballs.
- Don't Always Take What's Right in Front of You
When a new box of peaches is being laid out at the grocery store, you might be wondering what all the shuffle is about. Staff at supermarkets are frequently taught to rotate stock such that older produce moves forward and newer things move back. Carefully reach to the rear of the pack for the easiest and most nutritious finds.
- Don't Neglect the Game Plan
Make a list and double-check it. "Make a week's worth of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners that use up the items that wilt and go bad first, such as delicate spring mix and berries, before hardier produce like potatoes and collards," Raimo advises.
- By default, don't buy pre-cut items.
Buying pre-sliced produce, such as crudités or melon, can cost up to 100 percent more than buying the whole fruit or vegetable and cutting it yourself. Plus, the skin or rind of the plant helps prevent it from deteriorating, keeping nutrients longer and avoiding a "science experiment" in the back of the fridge.
However, Cording counters, you must account for your calendar. If a lack of time is preventing you from eating correctly, buying pre-cut frozen or fresh food can help you keep on track with your healthy habits.
- Don't get too excited about how daring you are.
Before you go, do a gut check. Will you truly use that Instagram-friendly horned melon or lychee, or will it get wrinkly and go bad before you get a chance to enjoy it?
Keep your expectations in check. If you've just finished reading a book or listening to a podcast on a popular food item and go out and buy a lot of foods you've never heard of before—much less prepared—chances are the food will go bad and you'll feel horrible about wasting it. Choose one or two new foods to try on each trip, but first, find a recipe for each on Pinterest so you can plan your meals.
- Don't Wash Right Away
Before you cut and eat, give every last item of produce a thorough shower (running water will suffice, according to the FDA). Even if you plan to peel, slicing through the skin might transfer bacteria to the edible area of the fruit.
"Wait to wash fruits and vegetables until right before you plan to eat them to preserve freshness and extend their lifespan," Weeks advises.
- Don't Get Sidetracked by Appearance
Produce that is "ugly" can be just as healthful as produce that is perfectly symmetrical. Consider the flavor and nutritional value of those globular, multi-colored heirloom tomatoes that make a splash at farmers' markets every summer!
Feel the fruit or vegetable: It should feel weighty for its size, indicating that it has a lot of water, and the skin or peel should be lovely and tight rather than wrinkly.
- Store These Foods Separately
Ethylene, a plant hormone that is released as a gas when certain fruits are ripe, can hasten the deterioration of some delicate vegetables. Keep apples and asparagus at arm's length in your fridge, and be aware of the Produce for Better Health Foundation's fruit and vegetable foes.
- Weekend Shopping Isn't Always Necessary
The majority of deliveries are made early in the week, on Monday or Tuesday, and the majority of produce department discounts are applied on Wednesday or Thursday. When you add in the fact that shopper foot traffic increases on Saturday and Sunday, you have a formula for a low-satisfaction, high-stress outing. If your schedule permits, shop at the supermarket during the week and then at the farmers' market on Saturday.
Now that you already have ideas about purchasing fresh produce, make sure to consider these tips on your next grocery day. That being said, it will be beneficial to you and your family’s health as these fresh fruits and vegetables are more healthy than any other food.